Number of USC smokers on rise
(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES -- While the number of University of Southern California students who smoke has doubled in the past decade, the perceived number of smokers on campus is much higher, a recent health survey found.
Twenty-two percent of USC students claimed last spring to have smoked a cigarette in the last month, according to an American College Health Association survey of 1,000 USC students, which the university received in August. A 1989 survey found that only 11 percent of students had smoked in that same time period, said Paula Swinford, director of Health Promotion and Prevention Services at the Student Health Center.
However, students perceive the campus smoking rate to be much higher, responding to the survey that they believe 90 percent of students had smoked within the last month. Although the actual percentage of smokers has doubled, Dr. Larry Neinstein, executive director of the Student Health Center, said he is less concerned about the increase than the simple fact that nearly one-fourth of the student body smokes.
"The point is, we have a significant number (of smokers). Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances, and once you get involved, it's hard to stop," he said. The perception that smokers constitute a majority on campus probably contributes to the rising trend, Swinford said.
Most students want to fit in socially, and when they perceive that such a high number smoke, they also take up the habit, she said. Then, once they start, it is difficult to quit.
"Nicotine is probably the most addictive substance," Neinstein said. "Once you get involved, it's hard to stop."
He added that he would like to see the rate drop by 40 to 50 percent and stressed the importance of programs that will help students quit.
"We need to make more resources available. USC is trying to work on a more focused smoking cessation program for the upcoming year," Neinstein said.
Student services Jennifer Attanasio, a health educator at the Student Health Center, has looked into several options to augment the smoking cessation programs already in place.
"We talked about asking every student who goes through the Health Center if they smoke so we can follow up and would like to start a group that talks to people about quitting," she said. "I also meet with people who want to quit."
Instead of focusing on future health problems smoking can cause which don't tend to resonate with students Attanasio addresses how smoking will affect them in the short term.
"For 18 to 25-year-olds, smoking works," she said. "They don't see the negative side effects. Nicotine helps them grasp information faster -- especially when they've been studying under its influence."
As there is no established outreach program, students must initiate contact with her. But because most smokers try to kick the habit on their own, she worked with less than 10 students last semester.
For many, though, the effort to quit is futile and they pick up a cigarette after a short time.
"I would love to quit, and I've tried many times," said Alexandra Cacciatore, a freshman majoring in history. "I quit for a month once, which is pretty good for a young, impressionable smoker."
Creating support systems for students like Cacciatore is vital to increasing their chances of successfully quitting, Attanasio said.
"The longer people try to stop, and the more support they have, the more apt they are to (succeed)," she said. For more information, call Student Health and Counseling Services at (213) 740-4777.
(C) 2000 Daily Trojan via U-WIRE